by Cliff Rold
29-year old Russian Light Heavyweight Sergey Kovalev (20-0-1, 18 KO) of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, made a huge leap into relevance on Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut with a dominant third-round stoppage win over 34-year old former WBA Light Heavyweight titlist Gabriel Campillo (21-5-1, 8 KO) of Madrid, Spain. Kovalev controlled the bout from wire to wire and used three knockdowns in the third to close the show.
It was the second knockout loss of Campillo’s career
Both men came into the fight spot on the Light Heavyweight limit of 175 lbs. The referee was Mike Ortega.
The southpaw Campillo, the taller man by a couple of inches at 6’2, came out in a defensive posture. The orthodox Kovalev used it to his advantage, pressing and landing a solid left hand, pushing Campillo towards the ropes. Kovalev stayed on the front foot, rights and lefts landing on both the head and high gloves of Campillo. As the round crossed the halfway mark, Campillo began to move his hands a bit but Kovalev was unbothered and stayed throwing, and landing, better stuff. Kovalev closed with a series of hard shots, Campillo able to pick most of them off with his gloves.
The jab of Kovalev was an important factor in his first round success. It remained key as the second began. Campillo landed a stiff jab near the end of the first minute. Kovalev responded with two shots of his own. As was the case the round before, Campillo picked up the pace as the round wore on, but Kovalev wouldn’t allow himself to be outworked.
Kovalev came up tossing heavy leather, Campillo able to cover up and defend. Campillo attempted to open up, targeting Kovalev with a right hand. Kovalev beat him to the punch, knocking Campillo off balance with a stinging straight left. Campillo backed towards the neutral corner as Kovalev came forward. Campillo, bent at the waist in defense, ate multiple digging left hooks to the ribs. Campillo scooted along the ropes towards the blue corner, trying his best to ward off the attack.
He couldn’t do it. A blistering right to the face sent Campillo towards the floor, the Spaniard reeling on his knees as Ortega ushered Kovalev to the corner to begin the count. Ortega picked up the count at five and Campillo was up between the ticks of seven and eight. Ortega waved the fight on after a quick look at Campillo and the assault continued. Campillo could only hope to weather and clear his head, covering the head and leaving the body vulnerable. Kovalev took the opening and forced Campillo to the floor for a second time with a right to the body.
Campillo propped up on his haunches and watched the count of Ortega, popping up at eight. He walked forward and nodded he could go on. Kovalev wouldn’t let him last much longer. Pursuing with shots to the head and body, a final right hand sent Campillo to the floor and Ortega immediately waved off the fight at 1:30 of round three.
Campillo came into the bout rated #3 by the IBF, a position sure to recede. The loss also kills whatever residual momentum he might have relied on after suffering two highly controversial title fight losses versus Beibut Shumenov and Tavoris Cloud.
Kovalev came in rated #8 by the WBC, #10 by the WBA, and #15 by the IBF. After Saturday’s performance, any of those could, and should improve. He’s proven himself a contender.
Interviewed in the ring following the bout, Kovalev was all smiles. Asked which of the titlists in the division he may look to target. “It doesn’t matter. I just want to step up for a title fight. Any champion. I am ready. (IBF titlist Tavoris) Cloud. Or (Bernard Hopkins)…” Cloud and Hopkins are slated to face off in March, “Or (WBC titlist and lineal World Champion Chad) Dawson. Or (WBO titlist Nathan) Cleverly. Any champion. I am ready. I am here to become champion.”
The champions know now they have someone to worry about now.
Kovalev’s wasn’t the only big knockout on the telecast.
27-year old Middleweight Curtis Stevens (23-3, 17 KO), 159, of Brownsville, New York, wasted no time in laying waste to former Middleweight title challenger Elvin Ayala (26-6-1, 12 KO), 159, of New Haven, Connecticut, scoring two knockdowns en route to a knockout win at 1:10 of the first round. Stevens used an explosive left hook to drop Ayala and a strong follow-up barrage to send Ayala to the floor for a second and final time. The referee was Tony Chiarantano.
For Stevens, it marked his second win since returning to the ring after a lengthy layoff between 2010 and 2012, both in the first round. The loss, Ayala’s third by stoppage, halts a six-fight winning streak since suffering a first-round defeat to David Lemieux in 2010.
Welterweight: Jimmy Williams (1-0, 1 KO) KO4 Noel Garcia (2-16-2, 1 KO)
Jr. Lightweight: Jason Sosa (8-1-3, 4 KO) TKO4 Joseph Perez (10-2, 3 KO)
The card was televised in the U.S. on NBC Sports as part of its “NBC Sports Fight Night” series, promoted by Main Events.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]